August 19, 2014 at 11:59 pm

Tony Paul

Tigers Mailbag: Royals breezy schedule should make Tigers' task more difficult

The trade of Austin Jackson (16) to Seattle has left a big hole in center field for the Tigers, who could pursue Cuban star Rusney Castillo to fill the void for this season and beyond. (Michael Perez / Associated Press)

Detroit — From June 1 through Monday night, the Tigers had played just .500 ball.

Anything close to .500 the rest of the way isn’t going to be nearly enough to claim a fourth consecutive American League Central championship, not with the way the Royals are playing — or figure to keep playing, given the cupcake schedule they have down the home stretch.

That means the Tigers are going to have to start scoring some runs, start taking advantage of some impressive starts, and start getting healthy.

They’ll get ample opportunity to make their run, especially considering they have long series the next two weekends against two AL Central patsies, in the Twins and the White Sox.

But they’ll have to do some damage against better teams, too, starting with this week’s pitching-heavy series against the Rays, and next week’s three-game home stand against the Yankees.

As I’ve stated often in recent days, to the chagrin of Detroit News readers and Detroit Sports 105.1 listeners, I have my doubts these Tigers will be able to get it done, even if I’m not ready to completely write them off.

Then again, the Tigers have proven me wrong before, and not that long ago.

In the meantime, on to this week’s Tigers Mailbag.

Question: What are the chances of the Tigers landing Rusney Castillo? Time is ticking if we want him on the roster? — Peter Tringali

Answer: Castillo, who was barely a blip on the collective baseball consciousness until just a few weeks ago, sure is generating a lot of buzz these days — and the Tigers are playing a role in that, given the rumblings they think he could actually help them this year.

And while I find that belief somewhat flawed — 1) He hasn’t played any meaningful baseball games since 2012; 2) The Cuban defector doesn’t yet have a work visa; 3) There’s no telling if he can compete in the major leagues, let alone for a contender in the thick of a pennant race — the Tigers obviously believe it, to some extent.

Therefore, I would put the chances of Castillo signing with Detroit at “high.”

Given the Tigers deep offensive struggles, given they had to part with Austin Jackson, their center fielder and leadoff hitter, in the David Price deal, and given the fact the big-spending Tigers continue to trail the Royals in the division, team brass — and ownership — probably is just desperate enough to take a stab, even if that stab includes them outbidding the closest competition by $10 million or more.

Time, though, really isn’t ticking all that much. For Castillo to be playoff eligible, all he needs to be is in the Tigers system by Aug. 31 — and if the visa issues linger, the Tigers can assign him to their summer-league affiliate in the Dominican Republic. That’s where Castillo is hanging out these days. Of all the issues with a potential Castillo signing, that one’s the least worrisome.

Question: If Rusney Castillo isn’t the Tigers center fielder next year, then who is? You better not say DKB (Donnie Kelly Baby), either. — nezzy21

Answer: That’s the other part of the equation.

Some like to talk about Castillo’s ability to help the Tigers this year, but their long-term concern over center field is just as important in these contract discussions.

Jackson is gone, first-round draft pick Derek Hill is three or four years away, Rajai Davis and Ezequiel Carrera aren’t the answer, and the offseason free-agent pool for center fielders is shallow.

So the Tigers can save themselves an offseason headache and sign Castillo, 27, the stocky right-handed slugger with mighty fine bat speed.

The Tigers have plenty of competition for his services — CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported Tuesday the Tigers, Red Sox, Phillies, Cubs, Yankees and Mariners all are seriously involved in the bidding — but it’s hard to imagine any of the other suitors need Castillo more than the Tigers.

And not just for this year.

For well beyond.

Question: Do the Tigers get the Yankees first-round draft pick after Max Scherzer signs with them? — nezzy21

Answer: Congrats, Nezzy.

You’re the first Tigers fan to get two questions answered in the same Tigers Mailbag.

Obviously, you’re not alone in your thinking Scherzer will leave the Tigers. He most certainly will. I’m not overly convinced he signs with the Yankees, however. Eventually they figure to make good on their promise to cut some payroll, and they’re already spending big on starters Masahiro Tanaka and CC Sabathia. Not sure Scherzer’s $200-million deal would be appealing, especially given Sabathia’s fade.

But to answer your question, yes, the Tigers stand to land a draft pick when Scherzer leaves.

If the team that signs him finishes 2014 with one of the 20 best records in baseball, the Tigers would get that team’s first-round pick. Teams with the 10 worst records have their first-round picks protected, so if Scherzer goes to one of them, the Tigers would get that team’s next-highest pick.

Either way, the Tigers will get a prime pick — not that that’s fair consolation for losing a pitcher of Scherzer’s caliber.

Question: When will the inevitable Kansas City collapse commence? — Evan Milefchik

Answer: Probably as soon as the Royals start playing some good competition.

Oh, they don’t. Seriously.

The Royals have one of the breeziest schedules over the last month-and-a-half. Seriously. Outside of two series against the Tigers in September — one at home, one on the road — the Royals are scheduled to play the Rockies once more, the Rangers three times, Yankees four times, Twins three times, Indians six times, Rangers three times, Red Sox four times and the White Sox seven times.

That’s about as easy as it comes.

That means two things for the Tigers: One, they’re going to have to own those two series against the Royals like they have the first 13 meetings (nine wins), and the Tigers are going to have to play really well in their other series — not just passable.

The Royals, the hottest team in baseball, is very unlikely to give an inch, so the Tigers will have to take.

Question: Why isn’t James McCann up yet? Makes no sense! — Richard G. Milliron

Answer: I don’t have an answer for ya, Richard. I tried to get one from Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, but he dismissed my questions with a rather stock answer: They’d rather have McCann playing every day in the minors, rather than sporadically in the majors. The latter, many teams feel, can stunt a prospect’s progression.

Too bad. The Tigers are struggling to score runs, and McCann can help — particularly against left-handed pitchers, of which the Tigers have faced more than almost anybody this year.

The Tigers starter catcher, Alex Avila, doesn’t hit lefties much. Well, McCann creams them. Theoretically, that could be the difference in at least one game, if not more.

And with the AL Central race shaping as such, one game could prove to be rather significant — even the difference between playoffs and no playoffs.

Yet, the Tigers are going to wait until rosters expand Sept. 1 before giving McCann his callup.

I don’t get it — not that that’s a first.

tpaul@detroitnews.com
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